Sunday, March 18, 2018

Cranes and Gators

Justin and I stumbled across something on the internet the other day about a Sandhill Crane migration in Alamosa, Colorado.  We're not really bird people, and it still sounded pretty cool to us.  Thousands of these huge cranes descend on the area.  In the mornings they all lift off together at the same time, and return again to their evening nesting spot together, 25,000 of them.  Truth be told we actually really want to go to Nebraska where you can see 500,000...but that will have to wait for another day when Justin has more leave saved up, and we're not still trying to furnish our home.  For now we settled on Alamosa, just a mere three hour drive away, a place that we've already visited a few times and we already know that we love it there.  We made a hotel reservation and were looking forward to it.  Then earlier this week we realized that we couldn't take one of our own cars.  It's a long story of one car with expired registration, and the other in the midst of a test for a serious mechanical issue that could potentially be screwed up by driving it that far right now.  So we booked a rental car to pick up Friday.  The only little hang up in there was that Justin had to close up at work that night, so he has to hang out until he's the last one there or until 6pm when he's allowed to start kicking people out.  Usually people leave early on Fridays, so it's not a big deal and he's not home that late (ordinarily he starts work early and is home by 4 at the latest)...but of course this week there were a few people that decided to stay until the last possible minute.  Our car rental was at a place down the street that closed at 6, and he had Ivan's car seat so I couldn't even drive the unregistered car over to get it myself.  When it became obvious that he wasn't going to make it in time I tried to cancel the whole trip, but the hotel said it was too late to cancel.  I was able to move the rental car reservation to the airport, which fortuitously ended up being less money and allowed for 24 hr pick up and drop off selection.   

We were packed up and ready when Justin finally got home.  We loaded up the car, and started driving to the airport, but Justin realized halfway there that he'd forgotten his wallet.  So we had to turn around and circle back for it.  At this point I'm not sure that either of us were looking forward to the trip.  It just seemed like too much hassle.  We stopped at a KFC for dinner.  Justin ordered a potpie, and back on the freeway discovered that they hadn't included a spork with his food.  So after a few swear words from him we circled back yet again to go back for an eating utensil.  We were finally on our way.  We arrived in Alamosa at midnight, were checked in and had everyone settled into bed by 1am.  We were still planning a 5am wake up to go see all the birds fly off the next morning at once.

When the alarm went off four hours later I seriously contemplated getting up.  I even sat up, and then I looked at my two toddlers and their exhausted little sleeping faces and decided that I'd be okay not seeing the birds all fly at once in the morning, maybe we could catch them returning together in the evening instead.

We woke up, went to breakfast, and were on the road to go search for cranes, out with the self-proclaimed "craniacs" by 9am.  We had done some reading on where to find them, so it didn't take us long to locate a decent you call them flocks?  I have no idea, but regardless there were a bunch of them.  We sat around and watched them for a while...doing nothing, and then a whole huge flock, or group, or whatever of them came flying in all at once, which seemed very interesting, but to be honest, they were birds standing around in a field, and as I've mentioned before, we're not bird people.  It didn't take too long before we were getting kind of bored, and the kids had already been bored for some time.  We were hoping to see the cranes doing their weird little mating dance, but they just stood around in a field and that gets old after a while.  We decided to move on.

Part of the large group landing

After a while they weren't flying anymore, just standing around in the field like this.

Watching them fly around was pretty interesting.
To help fill the daytime hours while we waited for the evening return to the nesting area we decided to visit Colorado Gators.  An alligator farm in the middle of nowhere Colorado.  We'd driven past it before, and even talked about going to visit some day if we had more time...and now there we were, with more time.  I'm not sure exactly what I expected...maybe a dozen or so alligators lounging around their hot springs I guess.  When we pulled up the place looked sort of garbagey and redneck and then in the lobby, if one can call it a lobby there was a display of digits soaking in formaldehyde that have been bitten off during alligator wrestling.  You can take lessons and build up to wrestling a 9 foot gator for only $100.  The injuries were described in such detail that standing there reading it I was curling up my fingers and wishing that I could stop reading, but naturally I did not.  It was quite disturbing.  They have a big sign up above the pictures of some injured wrestlers that reads "it only hurts until you pass out," and with that cheery thought we began our tour.

You start off inside, and the staff there told us that in addition to their alligators they're also running a rescue of sorts for unwanted exotic pets.  The tour begins with the unwanted pets.  Why in the world was someone keeping an Anaconda as a pet?  WHY?  Why did someone have a monitor as a pet?  Rattlesnakes, Piranhas, Caymans were a few of the others that just beg the question what in the heck was someone thinking?  Vivian  held a coral snake, and Justin and I both took turns holding this baby alligator, a rescue from someone in Wyoming.  Okay, seriously, why did someone in Wyoming think it would be a good idea to take on a pet alligator?  Why? 

There were at least a dozen or more of these Sulcata Tortoises

Holding the Coral Snake

Me and a small alligator
That being said, we were already feeling like this experience was worth every penny of the admission fee and we hadn't even seen a full grown gator yet.  We continued on to the fish.  Koi fish.  Tons of them.  And then these fish that you can feed...we think that they're Tilapia, because Colorado Gators started out as a Tilapia fish farm and they brought a few gators in to clean up the fish scraps.  There are so many of them.  When you toss the fish food in at them the whole pool writhes around in front of you.  It's fascinating.  

Feeding the Tilapia

Mixed in there was a snapping turtle...who in their right mind would want a snapping turtle as a pet?  There were lizards, birds, and all sorts of harmless turtles. It was all very interesting, and then at last we ventured outside to the gators.  It was shocking.  I swear there must be at least a hundred of them in various sizes.  They gave us a bucket of smelly little fish pellet things to feed them, and that's pretty awesome watching them snap at the little fish pellets you've hurled at them.  We had a great time. We took hundreds, literally hundreds of pictures.

Snapping at that tiny little fish pellet off to the left of it's mouth there.

Justin had to hold Vivian up to throw the pellets in to this one.

One of the biggest ones there.

There were so many of them.

Snapping at more pellets.

These were some of the juveniles.

They just needed to verify that the teeth are sharp I guess.
At the end there were three albino alligators, and an alligator that was retired from Hollywood after being in a bunch of movies and allegedly trashing a few movie sets as well.  There were also some emus and a couple of wolves and more turtles.  It was fantastic.  Justin loved it, I loved it, Vivian loved it, and Ivan even seemed to find it at least interesting enough to keep him quiet for the most part.  We even bought a souvenir magnet, and generally speaking, we never buy souvenirs.  That's how much we loved it.  ...if you can just get past the fingers in the lobby.  Seriously, just don't stop and read about it, you'll be sorry.  My fingers hurt just thinking about it. 
The albino alligators
 When we finally left we felt like our day was pretty much complete.  We drove into Great Sand Dunes National Park, but the kids had just finished eating a late lunch and drifted off to sleep, it was pretty windy, and so we talked it over, decided to let them be, called it a day, and headed home.   We'll go watch the cranes all fly back in the evening some day in Nebraska.  

On the drive home Vivian woke up and the first words out of her mouth were "I liked feeding the gators today."  So did I Viv, so did I.  When we got home and I was bathing the kids I realized that we all smelled like those little fish pellets that we had been feeding the alligators.  Gross, but worth it.  I can't wait to take Ivan back when he's Vivian's age.  He's going to love it!  We set out with the idea that the cranes were going to be the big highlight of the day, but the gators definitely took center stage and we're so glad that we took the trip out there to see them.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

A New Page

I find that when I get really behind on this thing, that it becomes very difficult to catch back up.  However, I'm going to try and bring everything back up to speed in one post, and we'll take it from there, see how it goes.  We left off with our trip to Southern Utah.

Shortly thereafter we took a rather ill-advised, and somewhat ill-fated trip to Glacier National Park.  It was ill-advised because school had started again, and it was expensive, and we were poor.  However, we found some cabins that were reasonably priced, and the temptation to go was too much for us, so off we went. 
The interior of our cabin

Our newest sign picture
I say the trip was ill-fated since we spent a large portion of the first day in the park watching a forest fire break over the top of this mountain.  It was all very interesting, and in some ways a real win, but the air quality was awful, and the views that we've been reading about for years were pretty hazy.

Ivan was thrilled to be there regardless of the air quality
The next morning we had hoped that the air would be better, but it was actually worse.  All the same, we decided to go spend some time on the beach at Lake MacDonald and do some wading while we waited for our scheduled red bus tour of the Going to the Sun Road to start.

This is what I have in mind when I say "Let's go wading kids."

This is what happens when Vivian hears the words "Let's go wading kids."
I love her enthusiasm, and we have learned to always, ALWAYS have extra clothes along for these sorts of outings.  So eventually we made our way to our Red Bus tour, and it was pretty awesome.  We saw mountain goats.  They were far away, but we thought that was cool, but we were also a little disappointed since we couldn't see a whole lot of anything else.  So maybe next time. 

Even the kids loved the tour

Outside our red bus.  We will do this again some day, pricey, but totally worth it!
After that we left the park, and the next day it was evacuated and so we decided to cut our losses, check out of the cabin early and drive to Boise to surprise Justin's dad with a birthday visit. 

The sunset through the haze was very pretty.
We called it a win, even though the trip wasn't at all what we had in mind when we first planned it.  

So the next item that I really feel like should find it's way into my blog is a trip that the kids and I took with Justin's mom to Disneyland.  Justin was in school, so he couldn't come with us for this one.  I knew that Ivan and I wouldn't be able to ride much, but I thought that it would be a very fun opportunity for Vivian to spend some time with her Grandma, and who better to introduce her to the magic of Disneyland?  So off we went, and my only regret was that Justin wasn't there to see her exhaust herself with excitement and wonder every day that we were there. 

Some play area over in California Adventure that she loved

We're lucky that he was so easy going about just sitting in the stroller for hours on end.

This ride terrifies me.  She loved it.

Taking a little break in the mid-afternoon.  this picture makes me sad when I see how skinny my little Ivan has gotten since learning how to walk.  Those thighs aren't nearly as squishy now.

Some honorary citizen badge that a worker gave her.  She still talks about it.

This was them every night. Two out of the three nights there these two snoozed right through dinner and on into the morning.

She was unable to tear her eyes off of Moana, and completely unable to form words in her presence.

She's never seen Dumbo, but she still talks about flying on an elephant with Grandma Goodale

Another stroller day for Ivan.

I love this picture.  She was so excited about the bumper cars she just left her Grandma hanging out and joined the family behind them in line.
This next picture might seem a bit odd, but it's one of my favorites from the trip.  
Take note of how the straps on this guy's backpack are sort of soggy on the ends.
There we were, standing in line to the Casey Jr. train, minding our own business...well, I thought that we were minding our own business, until I looked down and saw Vivian chewing on the backpack straps of the guy in front of us.  I was kind of appalled, and told her to get it out of her mouth immediately, and then turned to Michelle to call her attention to what had just happened.  When we turned back around Vivian had the backpack strap back in her mouth again.  I laughed so hard that I cried.  The guy never had any idea what was going on behind him, which made it all the more amusing to me.  

All in all this was a great trip, and this was an exhausting trip.  I would do it again in a heartbeat, and I am so grateful for a mother-in-law who willingly put herself through the experience to build memories with her tiny granddaughter.  

After that our lives descended into the worst semester of Justin's undergraduate career.  He was actually home quite a bit, he was rarely free to do anything but sit in the corner doing homework.  The kids hated it, I hated it, and Justin hated it.  He was always busy, we took no trips, and we hated that part too.  It all sort of culminated in a horrible incident right before Thanksgiving.  I woke up one morning at 5 am to Justin shouting my name at full volume from the bathroom.  Clearly something was not right.  I got out of bed, and as my feet hit soggy carpet I instantly had the thought that Vivian had for some reason had an accident next to my bed, which seemed very weird.  Nothing was adding up.  When I arrived in the bathroom where water was standing an inch deep I was instantly more awake, and instantly wished to be able to go back to bed and sleep through what was happening.  The tank of the toilet had cracked and our toilet had run all night long.  The entire upstairs was flooded, and when Justin went downstairs he found water pouring through the ceiling.  The entire downstairs was flooded.  Miraculously nothing of value was permanently damaged.  However, we ended up sending Vivian off to Boise for a week in the aftermath since there was about 10 square feet of dry flooring in the entire apartment and she got pretty bored with standing in that after about 5 minutes.  Fortuitously we had a trip booked to Colorado Springs that weekend to house hunt for a new home since Justin had finally received his official job offer.  We found a home, we made an offer, our offer was accepted and we were back to our flooded apartment in Logan all within a matter of days.  Our landlord decided to just leave it in it's water damaged state since we were leaving soon anyway.  Our last month and a half in that apartment felt like a year.  At long last Justin finished finals, and on the 15th of December he was commissioned a second lieutenant.  
Receiving his saber for being a distinguished military grad, ranked 81 out of 6,000 nation wide.
His first salute, from his first platoon sgt back in Idaho guard.

His mom pinning his rank on, and Vivian insisted on joining her on stage.

I stole these photos from his dad.
So let me just take a minute to brag about my husband.  I am super proud of him.  He had one A- in a kind of nightmare Russian class that kept him from a straight 4.0.  He was distinguished military grad, and spent his last semester as cadet commander of his program.  He worked so hard for this, and it was more than a little gratifying to see him get some recognition for everything that he put himself through.  I say put himself through, because he was never content with just the minimum.  He was always trying to do just a little bit more and little bit better.  So, in short, I'm lucky that he chose me to be his Mrs.

So after that we went into a packing frenzy.  We loaded everything we owned into moving pods, had them shipped to Colorado Springs and after spending a few days in Orem with my family we went to McCall, Idaho for Christmas with his.  I was instantly struck with an illness that eventually resulted in pneumonia, but despite that, we thoroughly enjoyed celebrating Christmas in McCall.  
Justin and I trying to teach Vivian how to make a snow angel 
Moments before a crash turned her little smile to tears.  She's pretty tough though, she eventually returned to the sledding hill.

Snowmobiling, note the big red scab on her cheek from the sledding incident.

Ivan and I spent a lot of time just watching.

From the snowmobile outing.  It was so beautiful!

They loved the tubing outing. 
A sleigh ride out to an elk herd.  On this one the elk eat the hay that you're sitting on.  It gets you an up times uncomfortably up close experience with the elk.  We loved it!
As with all vacations, they do eventually seem to end.  So off we went back to Orem to visit with my family again for a few days and then we made our way to Colorado Springs.  On January 2nd we became homeowners.  
Prior to this Vivian, in all seriousness, did not totally understand what the word "home" meant.
Since then Justin has started his new job, and we've been settling in here in the springs.  Our house is still pretty empty since we had very little in the way of furnishings having just emerged from living in tiny student apartments.  

We hadn't been here long when we received word that a close friend, Sharon Peterson had passed away in California.  I wasn't excited about taking a trip to California, and I wasn't at all excited about why we were making the trip, but with a little help from the Hexbergs, the kids and I made our way to California to say goodbye.  It was all going so well right up until her mom came over and thanked the Long Beach girls for being her friend.  I found myself sobbing on the freeway on the way back to the hotel telling Justin about it, because it was all so very backwards.  It was I who was lucky to have her as a friend, certainly not the other way around.  I look forward to seeing her again some day on the other side, and enjoying her company again.

Justin flew in after the funeral, from a business trip to DC and got us back to Colorado Springs in one piece, just in time for me to get grounded with pneumonia (turns out coughing non-stop for three weeks is a bad sign.)  Here we are now, healthy again, and looking forward to figuring out what little adventures we can create for ourselves locally since this homeowner thing is going to curb our travels for a bit.